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We snack on raw cashews. The US market for sushi, with its raw fish, is booming. We dip raw veggies in ranch dressing, and many people have tried the “raw foods diet.” But, raw water?
“Raw” water – untreated spring water – isn’t a new thing. Natural springs have been around as long as the earth, and theoretically, the layers of rock and clay that water passes through is a pretty good natural filter. When the water emerges again above ground, it is often clear and mineral-rich.
Some health-food enthusiasts, searching for a way to return to nature and depend less on corporate food sources, have touted the benefits of going “off the grid” with their water consumption, and getting their drinking water from natural springs.
They say their water is full of trace minerals and beneficial bacteria that get filtered and purified out of municipal water systems, and that raw water will lead to better health and overall wellbeing.
The medical profession disagrees.
“Cholera is not around for a reason,” says Dr. Goffredo-Hughes. “They say [collecting your own water is] the way it used to be done but the life expectancy was so much worse during those time periods.”
In fact, it was in 1854 that a doctor in London by the name of John Snow traced a major cholera outbreak to contaminated water. Until that time, people believed that disease traveled through the air in the form of odors. His work was revolutionary and led to modern water purification methods. In 1908, Jersey City New Jersey was the first U.S. town to disinfect its drinking water. Rates of typhoid fever and cholera plummeted.
But what’s the difference between raw water, bottled spring water, and well water? Aren’t they all from basically the same place?
Yes, and no.
Bottled spring water may still have minerals added or taken out. Some have added fluoride — as does 75 percent of U.S. municipal water — and most bottled water is chemically treated to remove bacteria. Even high-end bottled water that advertises that it’s “pure” spring water with “no additives” treats its water and bottles with some combination of heat, ultra violet rays, and ozone to ensure that it’s safe to drink.
Home wells may or may not be hooked up to water purification (usually UV or reverse osmosis) systems; however, when a well is dug, the groundwater is usually tested and the components of the well of are disinfected. The CDC recommends testing wells every spring, and after any flood and any time the homeowner notices a change in the taste, appearance or smell of the water.
People casually drinking from a spring that they heard about online or from friends are much less likely to know where exactly the water comes from. No amount of natural clay and rock filtration is going to purify water that’s been contaminated by industrial runoff or leaking septic systems. There’s also no way to know what animals may have visited the spring just before you got there to fill your jug – and what contaminants they may have left behind.
“For the minimal amount of healthy bacteria you would get from raw water, there’s so many more dangerous bacteria that would make you ridiculously sick, if not kill you,” explains Dr. Goffredo-Hughes. “We have put in place water filtration systems for a reason. This is why we’re a developed country.”
For those concerned that they’re not getting enough healthy bacteria or trace minerals in their diet, Dr. Goffredo-Hughes assures them that eating well-balanced, colorful meals provides the body with the nutrients it needs, and recommends yogurt for its probiotic benefits.
“Just because something in considered natural does not mean that it is safe and healthy. Arsenic is natural and it is by no means safe or healthy.”